Author Archives: Robert B. Tucker

About Robert B. Tucker

Robert B. Tucker is a global futurist and innovation keynote speaker with a client list that includes over 200 of the Fortune 500 companies. President and founder of The Innovation Resource, Tucker is an internationally recognized pioneer in the field of innovation, Tucker’s highly interactive presentations lead audiences on a guided tour inside the world’s most creative companies. Through stories and examples, Tucker shows leaders how to tap the mindset, skillset and toolset of innovation to embrace change, discover opportunity and avoid obsolescence. Known for his in-depth customization, Tucker provides today’s leaders with practical strategies, cutting edge insights, and inspiration to take action once back at the office.

Get Ready for the Age of Acceleration

How Preparing to Climb Mt. Everest Can Help You

Get Ready for the Age of Acceleration - Doug Burbank

GUEST POST from Robert B. Tucker

The phone rang in geologist Doug Burbank’s office at the University of Southern California. A climbing buddy was calling to ask if he wanted to join an expedition that was shortly to climb Everest. Impulsively, even though he had a full teaching schedule, a wife, and two young daughters, Doug said, “Count me in.”

What Doug did next to prepare for the adventure of a lifetime will amaze you. It’s a story I’ll share at the Pacific Coast Futures Retreat on May 2nd, in Santa Barbara, and it will help you deal with the uncertainty and volatility of the Age of Acceleration and constant disruption just ahead.

Doug realized that, living in Los Angeles, frost is rare. His body was not ready. He began researching the question: “How do I prepare my body to live in subzero temperatures day after day?” Add to this challenge the fact that Doug suffers from acrophobia – fear of heights. He needed to mitigate this potentially immobilizing condition – and fast! Doug’s innovative solutions will surprise you (e.g. “Put your hands in a bucket of ice water for ten minutes a day for two weeks to acclimate the body,” etc.).

Doug Burbank’s strategies have great relevance to the Everest before all of us: how to prepare for a world where the rate of change is increasingly exponential and never before experienced in human history?

In virtually every realm of our lives, the forecast is one of increased volatility and uncertainty. From energy to A.I. to unbridled technology. From medical breakthroughs to social media, to the rapidly warming climate. These forces will disrupt millions who are not prepared. They will create new winners and losers. They will influence markets. They will drive consumer and voter and social behavior. And they will challenge us as never before to look and think ahead of the curve, to mine the lessons of history, to unleash human agency and vision to shape the future we want rather than the one we inherit by default.

Over the next ten years, there will be more change than over the past 100 years. The divide will grow between those who “get it” and those who don’t. Between those who watch changes envelop them and toss them around and those who take calculated risks to create their own reality.

My friend Doug Burbank knows the secrets of how to adapt to new environments and come out alive. The Pacific Coast Futures Retreat will be a day of learning and discussion about the overdrive future. At this powerful, one-day gathering of forward thinkers from the world of business, academia, government, and the non-profit sector, the focus will be on understanding and mapping the emerging terrain. We will master the necessary “navigational skills” that will alert us to threats and unleash the creativity to discover and seize the opportunities that change brings about.

Pacific Coast Futures Retreat Banner

If you want to develop new navigational mindsets that will enable you to thrive and prosper no matter what shape the future takes, and if you seek to become indispensable to your organization, family, community and to play an outsized role in shaping the future for the common good, please join us by registering here.

Image credits: Robert B. Tucker, Doug Burbank

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What Innovators Can Learn From the Spectacular Rise and Crash of Theranos

Including its CEO Elizabeth Holmes

What Innovators Can Learn From the Spectacular Rise and Crash of Theranos

Last week in a Silicon Valley courtroom, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was convicted on four counts of fraud in connection with the failed blood-testing company she founded in 2003. The Stanford dropout will soon be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. She joins a long list of convicted fakers that includes Bernie Madoff, Jeff Skilling, John DeLorean, and many others.

For most observers, the question now is how Holmes got so far, so fast. But for innovators everywhere, I want to focus on a different question: what can we learn from this case study of innovation gone bad?

As an innovation author and trainer to corporate America, I see this as a tragedy for future startups, and the field of innovation.

From the beginning, I followed the amazing rise and spectacular fall of Theranos. At its zenith, the firm soared to a $9 billion valuation. When articles appeared on Elizabeth’s achievements, I was dazzled. Here was a young woman who’d had the gall to drop out of college and start a company that promised to change the game in healthcare.

Theranos invented the nanotainer, which collected blood through a simple, painless finger prick. Several drops of blood could then be tested by another Theranos invention, the Edison. Capable, according to company literature, of performing “hundreds” of separate tests, from standard cholesterol checks to AIDs and leukemia. “The results are faster, more accurate, and far cheaper than conventional methods,” crowed Wired Magazine in a 2014 cover story.

If only it were so. As the 18-week trial revealed, it was all smoke and mirrors.

The Edison was never able to perform any blood tests reliably. But instead of coming clean, Holmes chose to double down and lawyer up. In the book Bad Blood, Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou detailed how Holmes went extreme. She harassed, threatened, and tried to silence internal whistleblowers. Carreyrou was pilloried before the Theranos staff and threatened by Holmes’ attorney and company stakeholder David Boies. Yet his damaging reporting led to Theranos’ unraveling. He carefully documented how Holmes and COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani resorted to using conventional test equipment behind the scenes, while pretending to patients and investors that Edison had performed the work.

As the story of Theranos now fades into history, what can be learned from this rare, behind-the-scenes insight into the amazing rise and fall of a startup that might guide the innovation efforts of others? What did Holmes get right, and where did she go wrong?

Innovators need to believe in themselves and think big, and they need self-discipline. Holmes had these attributes in spades. As a journal she kept revealed during the trial, Holmes kept up a grueling personal development regimen: “4 a.m. rise. Thank God, exercise, meditation, prayer. Eat breakfast Eat breakfast of whey and banana. Get to office by 6:45.”

Young and inexperienced in business, she apparently disciplined herself to speak in a deep and unemotional voice to make her seem older and more credible. She wore turtleneck sweaters to subliminally get people to think she might just be the second coming of Steve Jobs, her hero.

She made mentors of people like Larry Ellison and big-name investors like Tim Draper, who in turn helped convince big-name investors like the DeVoss family, the Cox family of Atlanta, and Rupert Murdock, who lost $125 million in the collapse.

Holmes’ was ultra-tough on herself to keep upping her game: “I am never a minute late,” she wrote in one entry. “I show no excitement. [I am] ALL ABOUT BUSINESS. I am not impulsive. I know the outcome of every encounter. I do not hesitate. I constantly make decisions and change them as needed. I speak rarely. I call bullshit immediately.”

Yet the one person she failed to call it on was herself.

And once she edged down that path with little lies, little deceptions, she got trapped into telling bigger and bigger lies. “Our equipment is already in use by the U.S. military on battlefields,” she promised would-be investors. It wasn’t. She was particularly good at establishing credibility, and somehow managed to charm such luminaries as Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, and James Mattis to serve on her board of directors, along with not a single scientist nor medical doctor who might have red-flagged problems with the Edison. (It is amazing that General Mattis apparently didn’t bother to check out the false claim that the military was already piloting the product on battlefields).

Holmes knew how to deflect when her offering proved vulnerable. Every good sales professional knows to “overcome objections.” But whenever visitors started asking her questions that were too close to the Big Lie (the product had major flaws), she aggressively pushed back with, “don’t ask us to reveal trade secrets.” While this shut them up, it did not solve her problem.

Another tool of innovators trying to build the buy-in for their ideas is to use the “fear of losing out” technique. There’s nothing unethical about it, unless you misrepresent facts. This strategy worked well for Holmes – at least for awhile. She used it successfully to secure big contracts, and big investments.

But the lie that did her in was a false attempt to demonstrate credibility. Before the jury, she admitted adding the logos of drug companies Pfizer and Schering-Plough to a marketing pitch to Walgreen Drugstores, at the time considering partnering with Theranos to install instant blood-testing centers in its 9,000 retail locations.

Final lesson to innovators: use creativity to make your case, but don’t fudge even on the smallest details. What Elizabeth did with the logos became a charge of wire fraud and was said to be the smoking gun that all jurors agreed on should send her to prison.

This article originally appeared in Forbes
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

GUEST POST from Robert B. Tucker

Ten years ago, frigid temperatures in Texas caused rolling blackouts, and millions lost power. The state was warned to weatherize its power grid to prepare for more extreme weather but never got around to it. Then, in February of this year, plummeting temperatures again caused widespread outages. Nine hundred people died, mostly from frostbite. Members of ERCOT, the state’s “electricity reliability board” resigned.

What happened – or failed to happen — in Texas is emblematic of how we come to make decisions in a period of ongoing crisis. ERCOT’s failure to act on clear evidence of what needed to be done to avert future disaster is an all-too-common reaction in today’s disrupted age. We kick the can down the road. We cross our fingers and hope we’re not in charge when events hit the fan.

But the issue is not just how we mitigate or don’t mitigate risk. It is also about how leaders manage and plan for future opportunity.

Texas’ power grid reliability managers failed to weatherize. But the times we are living in demand that we futurize our thinking in order to avert future disasters, but also foresee future ways to add value, serve customers, and build new markets that don’t even exist today.

From pandemic to the dastardly attack on the US Capitol to a steady barrage of climate change-emboldened floods, wildfires, and hurricanes, we all seem to be suffering from Disaster Fatigue. Faced with too many warnings — and the need to make too many decisions — it’s easy to allow our thinking to lapse into what I call Defeatist Mode, and essentially shut down our Idea Factories.

To ward off Disaster Fatigue and get the creative juices flowing again, I recommend that you and your organization consciously start spending more time thinking about tomorrow. I call this process Managing the Future, and it involves managing a cultural shift from present circumstances to the future state we want to make manifest.

Manage the Future Manage the Shift

How to Manage the Shift

Economist Rudy Dornbusch once observed that things often take longer to happen than we think they should. But then they happen faster than we ever thought they would. That’s the sense I get as I have returned to the lecture circuit this fall and have spoken with dozens of leaders about where we are right now.

There’s a growing sense that Covid 19 is not going to go away completely for the foreseeable future. Instead, we are moving from Pandemic to Endemic (in other words the virus and its variants will still be with us, but enough people will have been vaccinated or become immune such that a semblance of normalcy returns).

During this period, leaders especially need to consciously shift attention away from a crisis management mentality and towards an emphasis on managing tomorrow’s potentiality.

As I see it, this is exciting news. For those willing to engage with the future, there is a wide-open field of opportunity. Never has there been a greater need for those with a vision of positivity as regards the future.

A recent survey conducted by Lancet, the British medical journal, found that 45 percent of Millennials in ten countries surveyed are so worried about climate change that it affects their daily life and functioning. So often the prevailing attitude is “we’re doomed.”

“As a young person, when you see a trend coming down the pike, you know it’s going to hit you,” writes Sara Kessler, in Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work. No generation is allowed to sit out the future, and right now the 71 million strong Millennial Generation has decisions to make about Climate Change for which there will be no “do-overs.”

Yet even with climate disasters increasing at an increasing rate, history tells us that our attitude and belief in a more positive future determines more about outcomes than any other factors. We can muster the brainpower to invent and unleash massive climate-cleansing innovations that keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees centigrade, but only if we believe we can.

To do so we must choose optimism over pessimism. We can choose optimism in the face of headlines that declare we’re doomed as a species. We can form study groups and tiger teams to look farther out and contemplate how our industry is changing, how our employee’s expectations are changing, how our customers’ needs are changing, and in doing so we can choose to think positive thoughts.

As we think, so we become. By consciously taking charge of our “self-talk” we can make the shift from defeatist, reactive, and crisis-driven thinking to deliberate, purpose-driven, future-focused thinking.

For those with an eye on their attitude, who monitor emerging technologies and social, demographic, and economic trends there are fewer surprises, fewer blindsides, and greater opportunities to own the future.

As Fleetwood Mac sang:

“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
It’ll be better than before…
Open your eyes and look at the day
You’ll see things in a different way”

Image credits: Robert B. Tucker, Pexels

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Weighing the Effectiveness of a Leader

Weighing the Effectiveness of a Leader

GUEST POST from Robert B. Tucker

As a college student, I was a volunteer on Joe Biden’s initial race for U.S. Senate. I recalled him saying something like, “If I’m elected, come see me in Washington.” Twenty or so years later I did just that. I put Biden to the test.

It was after a speaking engagement in Washington, D.C. I was about to head to the airport when I spotted the majestic Capitol dome in the distance. I remembered Biden’s promise. I had the cabbie to take me over to the Senate Office Building wherein the Delaware senator’s receptionist dutifully passed along my request.

Moments later a smiling and familiar figure appeared. The senator shook my hand and barely slowed down long enough to usher me to accompany him over to the Senate floor where he needed to cast a vote. We visited on the tram back and forth, and shortly we were back at his office, whereupon he thanked me for my service and disappeared.

Brief though it was, Biden passed my little test. He kept his word. He walked his talk. It was just that simple, yet I never forgot it.

I recall that incident from long ago because right now because it seems that leaders everywhere are being put to the test. Constituents, employees, and everybody else is asking tough questions about the competence and character of leaders.

As an innovation coach and public speaker, I’ve had a 35 year ringside seat to observe leadership in action. Working in 54 countries, and in every state and with businesses and trade groups of every size and industry, I’ve seen examples of great leadership that inspired me no end. I’ve worked with top teams of businesses in Rome, Charlotte, Bangkok and Abu Dabi. I’ve observed leadership in mobile phone companies in Bahrain, staffing companies in Kansas City, energy companies in Kenya, and direct selling companies in Peru. And lately, as we all have, I’ve seen dysfunctional and self-serving leadership at the national level that has disgusted me and made me fearful for future generations.

Never has there been such an urgent need for leadership as right now. Many of the readers of InnovationTrends are CEOs and senior leaders of large organizations. This is my call for you to step up to the plate: your company, your country needs you to lead.

And as leaders, you and I face three distinct challenges going forward:

  1. Can we build trust where trust is lacking?
  2. Can we anticipate change and think ahead of the curve?
  3. Can we execute skillfully and turn vision into reality?

Let’s examine these one-by-one:

The first thing leaders must do is build trust.

From the White House to the schoolhouse to the state house and to businesses and nonprofit organizations large and small, followers are asking those in leadership positions: are you the “real deal” and can I trust you? Do you have my back? And can I trust you to keep me and my family and my community safe? Can you steer and navigate this organization to a better place, or will you stand idly by as it is disrupted by forces you don’t understand, and don’t have a strategy to counteract?

The second thing leaders must do is to anticipate future threats and opportunities.

This week I’m interviewing Rick Sorkin, CEO of Jupiter Intelligence, a climate risk startup with headquarters in Silicon Valley, and whose business booked ten times as many contracts in the first quarter of this year as it did in the prior year. “I think that the pandemic was a bit of a near death experience,” Sorkin told the Washington Post. “Once people got past [it], they were like, ‘Oh, what else is there like this that we’re not worrying about?’” Climate change is at the top of that list.

By using advanced computer modeling, Jupiter forecasts the likelihood of a wildfire disaster, or the threat of a flood engulfing your chemical plant. Jupiter offers a whole new level of insight into what might previously have been considered “unforeseen” risks. Post Covid/Post Jan 6 everyone instinctively realizes we are living in a period of ever-broader “unsustainable” risks. Today’s leaders can no longer kick cans down the road. They must lead, for their anticipation skills are on full display. All leaders need to develop and use better tools and methods to help anticipate threats, but also, as Jupiter is doing, to position, wherever and whenever possible to translate them – using creativity and innovation thinking — into opportunities.

The third thing that leaders need to do is to execute successfully and turn vision into reality.

I once interviewed Warren Bennis, the late leadership guru and former president of the University of Cincinnati. Professor Bennis believed in the adage that great leaders are not born but made, insisting that “the process of becoming a leader is similar, if not identical, to becoming a fully integrated human being,” as he put it in an interview with the New York Times. Both, he said, were grounded in self-discovery.

Yet It was Bennis’s definition of leadership that I recall now, as being particularly appropriate to the times we are living in. Leadership, as Bennis saw it, is “the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

And that vision-to-reality transformation is what we need to study now, to celebrate now, and to strive to get better at. Instead of “just getting by” or muddling through, true leaders develop a vision of where they want to take the organization. They study the trends, they look back to be guided by history, and they inform themselves consciously and consistently as to where today’s trends are headed, and they take risks and make investments, rather than merely “kicking the can down the road” for future leaders to deal with.

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